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Unemployed People´s Meaning of Life

PhDr.  Dana ROSOVÁ, PhD., SR

Abstract

The article deals with a research of meaning of life of unemployed people. Our goal was to answer questions about how short-term and long-term unemployment affects meaning of life of unemployed people, and how social work can help. Unemployment endangers the society as a whole and has a negative influence on the unemployed people and their families. The article is about a research of meaning of life of people, who are unemployed for a short or a long period of time. Within our research, we used a quantitative method, specifically PIL questionnaire (Purpose in Life Test), Life goals questionnaire (J.C.Crumbaugh, L.T.Maholick, 1964). Target group was comprised of 130 unemployed respondents, specifically 72 of them were currently unemployed, and 58 of them were long-term unemployed. The choice was not accidental. Results of this research will be thoroughly analysed. Conclusion will be about recommendations for practice of social work and the fact that we need to give more attention to the long-term unemployed in order to encourage them to get employed again.

Key Words: meaning of life, the path to gain life-meaning, components to the life meaning, short-term, and long-term unemployed.

1 Meaning of Life

Dictionary of social worker defines meaning of life as a regulative term that modifies and explains social norms by which a person should guide himself. A person´s value system along with his confrontation with social norms helps to define the secret of an individual´s existence, also known as the meaning of life (Strieženec, 1996). To understand the meaning of life means to understand ourselves. When we talk about the meaning of life, it does not have to mean only one thing; therefore we can talk about so-called plurality of meanings. We assign different meanings to each of our spheres of life. We can talk about pathology of purpose of our existence, because such meanings can strengthen each other (when we reach one meaning we can proceed to reach another one) or contradict each other (Šulavíková, Sejčová, 2008).

Philosophy regards questions about meaning of life as the basic ones. The everlasting questions that are part of a person´s life are: “Who am I?”, “Where does my life lead to?”, “What is my purpose?”, “What is the value of my life?” (Bilasová and Balogová, 2009).

  • Paths to Life-Meaning

According to V. E. Frankl, searching for meaning of life is a primary force. Every person must find this meaning and accomplish it on its own. A meaning must be found, not created. We need to ask what life expects from us, not what we expect from life. Because of life´s everyday requirements, the meaning is not precisely defined. According to V. E. Frankl, meaning can be found in three different ways: when we are creating some product, in service of love or real life situations where a person´s fate cannot be changed. A meaning can be found despite suffering (Šulavíková, Sejčová, 2008). These paths (values), as stated by Frankl, can be the source of meaning of life. They are:

Experience Values

We can define our life as meaningful when we can embrace the variety and colourfulness of it. We can feel such experience values and beauty through observation of nature or other human-made things like art, sports, science, and technology. Meeting other people and contact with other people in general can be defined as one of the important experience values. This can happen during many activities, but it especially happens when express love to someone. These experiences acquire meaning when they are beautiful themselves, and when the person, who perceives them, is also personally participating on them. By participating on them, the person brings something valuable to this world. We discover the true beauty of life through such experience values and with their help; we can meaningfully build up our life in various aspects (Längle, 2002).

Creative Values

A person perceives his life as meaningful, when he creatively affects this world. The main aspect of creative values is for a person to receive something valuable in exchange for giving and enriching the world with something equally valuable. Giving and receiving are the main principles of growth and evolution. These principles apply to all spheres of life: the biological sphere, psychological sphere and also the sphere of decision-making and responsibility. To summarize the creative values of life, their main attribute is to create something or accomplish some deed. Person´s interest in such accomplishment is much more important than the accomplishment itself. In addition, the nature of this accomplishment is determined by his skills and abilities. Only commitment and devotion give true value to person´s actions. However, the biggest opus is a person´s unending work to handle his life. (Längle, 2002).

Attitude Values

People are not equipped to handle hopeless situations in life very well. We all know how hard is to deal with a death of a person we love, or with a terminal disease. Sometimes a person cannot find anything positive that would help him handle such situations. Existential analysis of V. E. Frankl tries to show people that there are such positive things, no matter what you may believe. According to one proverb, fate often bars the door, but leaves an open window. A person must not be afraid to use this window. A person has to be himself while he suffers. When the freedom of choice was taken from the outside world, we have to use our inner freedom to face the fate (Längle, 2002). Suffering brought along questions about the meaning of life, because any attempt to find such meaning was blocked by this suffering. On the other hand, not having an answer to the meaning of life was also considered as a specific form of suffering. Every person wanted to avoid such situation in his life (Palenčár, 2011).

1.2 Components of the Meaning of Life

In literature, the most spread three-component model of the meaning of life was revered the most. Reker and Wong, who understand the meaning of life as a multidimensional construction composed of three parts that affect each other, are also the creators of this model. The three parts are cognitive, motivational, and affective.

Cognitive Part

This part is connected with cognitive setting, which is made from system of beliefs, importance, and expectations centred on you, the world, and your own life. It is also centred on how a person assigns meaning to his life, how he can deal with life situations, and it is also centred on questions about coping with the final meaning. This part gives meaning to a person´s life. Another purpose of this part is also the fact that it allows to understand the meaning of various life situations, and to coherently sort them out. High criterion of the meaning of life, awareness of organization in life and also our purpose or the final goal, this all depends on the development of the cognitive part. Undeveloped cognitive part can be a cause of confusion in life and existential anxiety (Halama, 2007).

Motivational Part

With this part, it is all about fulfilling different goals, activities, and values that a person considers to be important in his life. A person spends high amount of time and strength on activities that contribute to fulfilment of his goal. A person with a developed motivational part has different values, goals and is keen to fulfil these goals, even when a failure occurs. Deficit of activities, life goals and also boredom and disinterest are usual companions to an undeveloped motivational part (Halama, 2007).

Affective Part

A person´s feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment comes from accomplishing his goals, through experiences that he encounters and from positive outlook on life. A person with a developed affective part is happy and satisfied with his life. On the contrary, a person with an undeveloped affective part is unhappy, sad and feels depressed (Halama, 2007).

Meaning of Life of Unemployed People

When we are talking about satisfaction from working, it is a situation for an unemployed person when the rewarding codex of the society does not apply to him. Unemployment is an issue of career advancement and negative changes in the rewarding codex. A career is much more than an act of finding a job; it is also a compilation of behavioural models and ways of thinking. Losing a job means much. It raises questions about the job he was working in and the meaning of life (Hvozdík, Rosíková In Džuka, 2004).

As Frankl discovered, when an unemployed person gets a job (may be paid or not), he is happier. He speaks about a state of mind, when a person does not have anything to live for, when any meaning of life is absent (Halama, 2007). When a person tries to accomplish and not to give up on his values, he perceives his life as more perspective. All of this was discovered during past researches on the subject of meaning of life. These researches also showed that a person with precisely defined goals has it easier in life, than a person who does not know what he wants. (Žiaková, Sčensná In Šlosár, 2009).

  • Social Work with Unemployed People

Social work is one the tools used for cooperation with unemployed people. Nowadays, when the number of unemployed people grows higher, there will soon be more people, who will need some sort social assistance (Žilová, 2003). General theory of social work provides guidelines for the social workers when working with unemployed people, but the social worker has to consider specific attributes of this group of people and make of use of specific stages of social work. A social worker working with the unemployed has to know basic information about this issue, mainly its reasons, consequences, and solutions for it. He should be motivated to work with this specific group of people. It is necessary that a social work always behaves correctly and follows the ethic codex of a social worker. A social worker´s main task is to develop the potential of his client and his family. Social work is mostly conducted solely with the unemployed person and working together with his family is not seen much often. Most common working methods are social consulting and socio-legal protection (Matulayová In Balogová, 2003).

Social work services try to accomplish two main roles for the unemployed people:

  • They are necessary in order to provide mental support for the long-term unemployed, because a long-lasting unemployment causes stress, uncertainty and it hurts family relationships.
  • They necessary in order to help people get employed again.

There are many subjective and objective reasons for being removed from the job market. Those reasons can be: low qualification, low self-esteem, low competence, or loss of interest to work. This exclusion from the job market goes hand in hand with social exclusion, and may lead to confusion whether the main problem is of social character or because of the unemployment (Kodymová, Koláčková In Matoušek, 2005).

 

2.1 Social Consulting for the Unemployed

There is an ongoing successful development of consulting services for unemployed people. It should be comprised of three levels. Primary level should contain consulting and information services, which will be available at the Labour Office. The secondary level will also be available at the Labour Office, carried out by qualified employees. They will focus on consulting services in the areas of professional orientation, development of business activities, psychological and legal advice. The highest level will be focused on specialized consulting for people who suffered trauma by losing their job and have problems with finding a new employment. Mass and group counselling for unemployed people will take place mostly in job clubs. Social skills training will be conducted in group counselling and these skills should lead to future employment. Other special activities for long-term unemployed, unemployed people under age of 18, and mentally or physically disabled unemployed people, are available (Schavel, 2004). “The goal of consulting services for unemployed people is to provide information, help and professional advice when choosing a new job, and to help with the right choice of requalification, while considering the specific needs, requirements, health and the situation on the job market” (Schavel, Oláh, 2010, p. 90). Labour Offices are the providers of these services. A social worker is irreplaceable when it comes to securing rights and duties of people, analysing the client´s social situation, and he can provide an overview of the social reality. He also has the knowledge about the specific problem, availabilities, arrangements, and solutions (Schavel, Oláh, 2010).

One of the basic principles of this consulting is that it is free of charge, the client decides if he wants to use these services and the consulter must remember that his client has the right to make decisions for himself, and to take responsibility for these decisions (Žilová, 2003).

We can define the purpose of Labour Offices activities from two points of view.

Purpose of consulting services from the individual point of view: effective use of free time;

social and psychological stability of the unemployed person; gaining knowledge and experience about the job market.

Purpose of consulting services from the social point of view: protection from the social pressure of the society; prevents deterioration of working potential; is a promising investment into a quality labour force (Žilová, 1998).

Consulting services provide an important role of preventing long-term unemployment and eliminating social pressure in the society.

 

  • RESEARCH

The goal of the research was to determine how the unemployment affects the meaning of life of currently and long-term unemployed people. Our questions were based on our goal and specification of the problem:

What is the difference in perception of meaning of life between currently unemployed and the long-term unemployed?

What is the difference in perception of meaning of life between men and women?

What is the difference in perception of meaning of life between the unemployed living in a city and the unemployed living in a village?

What is the difference in perception of job importance in the meaning of life between people with higher and lower education?

Are drugs and alcohol a solution for currently and long-term unemployed people, when searching for the meaning of life?

What is the difference in perception of death between the currently unemployed and the long-term unemployed?

 

  • Hypothesis

HH1: We assumed that currently unemployed find a bigger meaning of life than the long-term unemployed do.

HH2: We assumed that more unemployed women, than unemployed men, consider family to be their meaning of life.

HH3: We assumed that unemployed people living in villages have a better opportunity to find the meaning of life, than people living in a city.

HH4: We assumed that psychosomatic disabilities will occur more in long-term unemployed people than in the currently unemployed.

HH5: We assumed that unemployed people with a higher degree of education would consider having a job more important, than people with a lower education.

HH6: We assumed that long-term unemployed people are more susceptible to drugs and alcohol than the currently unemployed, when searching for the meaning of life.

HH7: We assumed that long-term unemployed people have a more negative approach to death than the currently unemployed.

 

  • Methodology and Research Methods

We used a quantitative method and the PIL questionnaire (Purpose in Life Test) when conducting our research. J.C.Crumbaugh and L.T.Maholick are the authors of the PIL questionnaire and they published it in 1964. The questionnaire focuses on the issue of meaning of life, fear of death and questions about responsibility and freedom.

The PIL questionnaire has three parts. The first part is composed of 20 subparts, addressing the issue of life goals. These 20 subparts are rated on a 7 points scale. Higher numbers mean that a person has a positive outlook on life and its meaning. We get the results of the first part by counting points from all 20 subparts. Total amount can vary from 20 to 140 points. As it was already mentioned, higher number stands for more positive outlook on life and its meaning. The content of the first part is composed of questions about affirmation of life, self-acceptance, freedom, perceiving goals, and future, and opinions about death. The second part is composed of 13 unfinished sentences. The third is about writing down their own goals and plans for the future (Křivohlavý, 2006). We also used a questionnaire about psychosomatic disabilities.

  • Research Sample

130 unemployed people participated on the research. 72 of them were currently unemployed (less than 24 months) and 58 of them were long-term unemployed (more than 24 months). The participants had to be unemployed. The research was conducted via internet. Anticipated participation was 200 respondents, but in the end only 130 of them was willing to participate. The age of respondents ranged from 20 to 55 years. 45 of them were men, 85 of them were women. There were 75 participants living in a city and 55 participants living in a village. 11 of the respondents had only basic education, 66 had high school education, 52 had a university diploma, and 1 respondent had a doctorate.

  • Research Results

A statistic programme SPSS was used to evaluate the research results. Specifically, a t-test was used for 2 independent samples and a chi-quadrate test was used for two independent criteria.

HH1: We assumed that currently unemployed find a bigger meaning of life than the long-term unemployed.

The first part of the PIL questionnaire was used to evaluate this hypothesis. We used t-test for 2 independent samples during the evaluation. Currently unemployed people achieved an average score of 101, 32 and long-term unemployed people achieved an average score of 79, 47, which less than the currently unemployed. The value p = 0,000 proves that our assumption was correct. We can say that currently unemployed people find a bigger meaning of life.

HH2: We assumed that more unemployed women, than unemployed men, consider family to be their meaning of life.

Questions from the third part of the PIL questionnaire were used to prove this hypothesis. Those questions were: question 3- “The most important thing in my life is….”, and question 8- “I spent most of my energy….” We used chi-quadrate test for 2 independent criteria. We found out that 15 of 45 men (33%) consider family as their meaning of life, and 44 of 85 women (51, 8%) consider family as their meaning of life. Since the value p < 0, 05, specifically p = 0,045, we can say that our hypothesis was confirmed. We can say that unemployed women consider family as their meaning of life in higher degree than unemployed men.

HH3: We assumed that unemployed people living in villages have a better opportunity to find the meaning of life, than people living in a city.

The first part of the PIL questionnaire was used to evaluate this hypothesis. We used t-test for 2 independent samples during the evaluation. Average score of people living in cities was 95, 6667, and average score of people living in villages was 85, 9818. According to these results we can say that people living in cities have a more positive outlook on life and its meaning, because p < 0,05, in this case it is p = 0,039. This means that there are significant differences between people living in a village and living in a city when it comes to outlook on meaning of life.

HH4: We assumed that psychosomatic disabilities would occur more in long-term unemployed people than in the currently unemployed.

We used the results of the psychosomatic disabilities questionnaire to evaluate this hypothesis. We used chi-quadrate test for 2 independent criteria. We found out that only 5 of currently unemployed people had psychosomatic disabilities, which is 6, 9% of the currently unemployed. 9 of the long-term unemployed showed cases of psychosomatic disabilities, which is 15, 5%. Our hypothesis proved to be correct, because p < 0, 05 (p = 0,043).

HH5: We assumed that unemployed people with a higher degree of education would consider having a job more important, than people with a lower education.

Questions from the third part of the PIL questionnaire were used to prove this hypothesis. Those questions were: question 3- “The most important thing in my life is….”, and question 8- “I spent most of my energy….” We used chi-quadrate test for 2 independent criteria. Our research showed that 7 of 11 (63, 6%) persons with basic education considers having a job to be important. 39 of 66 (59, 1%) persons with highs school education considers employment to be important. 25 of 52 (48,1%) persons with an university diploma considers employment to be important and the one person with a doctorate considers family to be more important than job. This means that p=0,392 and thus is more than 0, 05, making our hypothesis incorrect.

HH6: We assumed that long-term unemployed people are more susceptible to drugs and alcohol than the currently unemployed, when searching for the meaning of life.

To evaluate this hypothesis, we used answers to question from the second part of the PIL questionnaire, specifically question 10: Finding solution in alcohol and drug consumption is… We used chi-quadrate test for 2 independent criteria. The results showed that 15, 5 % of the long-term unemployed had a positive opinion on consuming drugs and alcohol and only 7% of the currently unemployed had a positive opinion on consuming drugs and alcohol. In this case p=0,256, which is more than 0, 05 and this means that our hypothesis was false, and there are no significant differences in opinions between the currently and the long-term unemployed when it comes to alcohol and drugs.

HH7: We assumed that long-term unemployed people have a more negative approach to death than the currently unemployed.

We used sum of two questions from the first part of the PIL questionnaire to evaluate this hypothesis. These questions were: Q 15: My opinion on death is…. Moreover, Q 16: My opinion on suicide is… We used t-test for 2 independent samples during the evaluation. We discovered that currently unemployed people have scored 8, 93 and long-term unemployed people have scored 8, 21. The maximum score possible was 14 and the minimum score possible was 2. Higher score means that respondents have a more positive outlook on death. Although the currently unemployed had a more positive outlook on death, the p=0,189, which means that there are no significant differences between currently unemployed people and long-term unemployed people. Our hypothesis was incorrect.

 

Conclusion

We tried to compare our results with results of other similar researches. A similar research was conducted in 2009 (Žiaková, Sčensná). One of the goals of this research was to find out, what kind of impact has a long-term unemployment on an unemployed person´s meaning of life. The research also used the PIL questionnaire, but had only 30 participants, who were unemployed for more than 12 months. Our researched considered a person to be long-term unemployed when he did not have a job for more than 24 months. The age of respondents was similar in both researches. We tried to compare the hypothesis about the negative opinion on death in long-term unemployed people, but none of these researches proved this hypothesis. In this particular research, majority of the respondents considered death to be a natural part of life and had a positive opinion about it. In our research, we discovered that unemployed people do not have a strictly negative opinion on death, since their average score was 8 out of 14 possible points. When it comes to affirmation of life, 53% had an above-average affirmation. Our research showed that long-term unemployed people had an average affirmation of life.

An empirical sociological research of unemployment was conducted from October 2005 to January 2006 with respondents from the evidence of the Labour Office in Košice. This research was conducted through a directed interview, with 600 participants. Goal of this research was to study satisfaction with their own life, and a 4-point scale was used. 75% of respondents expressed that they are not satisfied with their life. The longer the person was unemployed, the less he was satisfied with his life. This result about not being satisfied with their life contradicts the results of our research. Such high dissatisfaction was not recorded in our research (Paukovič, 2007). Based on these results, we can say that the longer the person is unemployed, the more his meaning of life diminishes. Long-term unemployed people have a lower self-acceptance in comparison to the currently unemployed. When it comes to comparing the element of freedom, long-term unemployed people say that their life is more influenced by the environment and heritage, and they are more likely to feel that they do not have their life fully in control. Those, who were unemployed for less than 24 months show a more positive outlook on future and life goals. It is necessary to give more attention to this issue, even when the results did not show a strictly negative outlook on life and its meaning. We should focus on long-term unemployed people, so they would be able and willing to work again. We should also pay attention to the currently unemployed, because they also can reach the stage of long-term unemployment. One of the first steps should be allowing young people to be successful on the job market. It is important to focus on those, who are less qualified. Prevention and sufficient awareness are necessary. One the preventive actions should be preparing people for employment, beginning in elementary school and going all the way to training of adults and seniors. However, education solely is not enough for being successful on the job market. This is proved by our research sample, where 40% of unemployed people had a university diploma and 51% had high school education. If a person wants to be successful, he has to be assertive and communicative. Because of this, the importance of social consulting should be highlighted. A group consulting can work as a training, where the client can learn new skills, gain new experience, and learn how to work in groups. Therefore, we advise to increase subsidies on active market policy and requalification of unemployed people.

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Text book articles

HVOZDÍK, S., ROSÍKOVÁ, T. 2004. Prežívaná úroveň zmyslu života u nezamestnaných. In Džuka, J. Psychologické dimenzie kvality života: kvalita života – teoretický konštrukt, kvalita života – empirické zistenia. Prešov: Prešovská Univerzita, 2004. ISBN 80-8068-282-8. p. 247-258.

ŽIAKOVÁ, E., SČENSNÁ, M. 2009. Zmysel života dlhodobo nezamestnaných. Špecifiká sociálnej práce s touto skupinou klientov. In Šlosár, D. Migrácia – chudoba – nezamestnanosť. Košice: Košický samosprávny kraj, 2009. ISBN 978-80-970306-0-5. p. 28-37.

Magazine articles

PAUKOVIČ, V. 2007. Problém nezamestnanosti – vybrané makrosociologické a mikrosociologické kontexty. In Sociálne a politické analýzy. ISSN 1337-5555. 2007, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 73-101.

ŽILOVÁ, A. 1998. Význam poradenstva pre nezamestnaných občanov. In Práca a sociálna politika. ISSN 1213-624. 1998, vol. 7, no. 5, p. 17-18.

 

PhDr. Dana Rosová, PhD.: odborníčka s dlhoročnou praxou v oblasti prevencie sociálno-patologických javov/ obchodovania s ľuďmi, rasizmu, extrémizmu, šikanovania, drogových závislostí, porúch správania/ a poradenstva, lektorujem sociálno-psychologické výcviky.